Women are responsible for approximately 80% of healthcare decisions for U.S. families. Since 2010, females have made up the majority of the U.S. workforce. Women now earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees and 60% of master’s degrees. But, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 73% of medical and health service managers are women while only 4% of healthcare industry CEOs are.
Despite that small number, the Medtech Women conference organization recently polled its attendees and found that 53% of women now believe that it is easier for women today to be successful in executive medtech positions than 10 years ago. “I was quite surprised by that [figure],” says Lisa Suennen, co-founder and managing partner at health investment firm Psilos who took part in the event. “This is pure conjecture, but it could have to do with the fact that there are now some women success stories that you can point to,” she says. “It is interesting because if you look at the number of women who are, in fact, medtech CEOs, it is teeny tiny. But I guess there is a sense that there are enough women that have reached senior management that other women have the sense that they have the chance of moving forward.”
While the numbers of women in medical device companies are slowly growing, they tend to cluster in certain fields within the industry. “You tend to find a lot more women in sales and marketing, HR; not so much in operations, engineering, and CFO-type roles,” Suennen says. “If you look at every big medtech company, is there a single one that is run by a woman? I don’t think so. There are some that have women on the executive staff but not a lot. On the board, they typically have one woman.” By contrast, the healthcare services field tends to have more women at the executive level, she says.
“I think [this issue] is still a very real challenge,” Suennen says. “As a venture capitalist, I don’t see many women CEOs coming to pitch me. Virtually none. Maybe one in 1000.”
So what is the most important thing that women can do to better their odds of becoming an executive in medtech or to win funding from a VC? Have higher self-confidence and be more willing to self promote. “Men are taught to be more aggressive, assertive, self confident and women are taught to be sociologically less so, by and large,” Suennen says. “Women are taught to be more caring about others and not so much to be out on the forefront and on their own. Maybe it’s just one of those Mars/Venus things, but, for whatever reason, women tend to be less willing to self promote—to walk into a job and demand something. They often ask instead of inform.”
Or course, gender norms are also evolving with time. “And in all parts of the economy, the world is in transition,” Suennen says. “How that plays out, it is hard to see. But if you believe it is true that communication, empathy, and community building and all of those things are important for the next generation of the economy, those tend to be areas that are more female-ish. Or at least people believe that. And that is an interesting thought.”